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Archive for December, 2009

Reflecting on 2009…

2009-12-31Where in the world am I today?: CocoCay, The Bahamas aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

Three hundred and thirteen posts made up the content of this blog during 2009… At the beginning of it all I set out to get some of what floats around in my brain out because I thought it might be helpful to other performers who work in the field that has been so good to me over the years… The blog was a place to collect bits and pieces of information that I attempted to organize into a somewhat cohesive weekly structure that I established at the beginning of the year and managed to follow fairly successfully over the course of the year… Sometimes the posts were delayed in being uploaded because of the irregular nature of how I connect to the internet when I travel, so some posts got up a bit later than I might have liked, but technical issues aside, I’m looking back over the year feeling rather amazed by the fact that I accomplished what I set out to do and stuck with it for the full calendar year.

Huge thanks go to all of the performers who participated in the weekly ‘Interviews from the Inside‘ segment that I created for Fridays… 52 weeks in the year and 52 different performers generously contributed answers to the questions I posed… Had a few people decline when I asked them to participate in this, but far more people said yes than said no when I asked them if they’d be willing to do this for me. Those who said no had pretty specific reasons for not wanting to be involved, reasons I both understand and respect, but to those who did play the game I say Thank You!

Huge thanks to the many famous people who’s words I borrowed for the weekly Saturday Quote as well… I had fun with the addendum in each case as it helped me articulate an something in each quote that I thought was relevant… I’m not sure if I was entirely successful with each week’s effort, but as with many things in this creative world, the exercise of generating content I feel has some value… Consciously making an effort on a daily basis to do something more than just respond to emails has been a good stretch for my writing muscles… And hopefully with any luck I’ll be able to use these well stretched muscles to be a bit more diligent about working on my show in the New Year…

Goals in 2009 were –

  1. Write a blog – check!
  2. Take the idea for “The Hot Dog Show” that had been floating around in my head for about five years and perform it – check!
  3. Travel to Machu Picchu, Peru – check!
  4. Continue to do all of the other things that I already do to stay engaged and creative – check!

I’m a touch behind on a couple of things… Haven’t finished assembling the journal I wrote with the pictures I took in Peru which I’d still like to get to and still need to compiling a video from the footage I assembled of the 2009 PNE Street Stars Program. Ideally I would have loved to complete both of these before the end of the year, but what’cha gonna do… There are only so many hours in each day and if I put my nose to the grind stone any more I’m not sure how much nose I’d have left to stop and smell the roses from time to time. As with all things in life, finding a good balance seems to be key.

If you’re reading this or have ready any of the posts over the past 12 months, thank you. I think in maby ways that this was primarily an exercise for myself, but if some of what I wrote was of interest or in the least way useful, then I’m pleased that the blog ended up serving a great good as well. If you have any ideas or suggestions as we head into 2010, I’d love to hear from you. Either leave a comment in the comment’s section or send an email to: cbg@checkerhead.com. I haven’t run out of things to say yet, but always welcome any feedback that you care to contribute. And so… Onward and upward into 2010!

Photo Credit: David Delnea

Nice to be back on the Monarch!

2009-12-30Where in the world am I today?: Nassau, The Bahamas aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

I’m feeling all filled with nostalgia at the moment aboard the Monarch of the Seas because this was one of the first ships I performed on after signing on to have Don Casino represent me to the cruise ship market. Flash back to February 2005, I flew myself to Miami for the Don Casino Talent Showcase and got a contract shortly after with Celebrity Cruise Lines… My start with Celebrity seemed to fizzle out before it really had a chance to get going though and it wasn’t until I started to work for Royal Caribbean in July of that same year that I really started to feel like I was getting some traction with the agency and with one specific cruise line.

Over the course of the months that followed I ended up working on the Monarch of the Seas a number of times and I feel like I have this ship and the shows I did in the Sound of Music Theatre to thank for helping me transition my show to working well for audiences on cruise ships. Although the Monarch is one of the smallest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet (just over a third of the over all tonnage of the monster  Oasis of the Seas), coming back to this ship this week feels like coming home in a strange sort of way and I’m really looking forward to being back up on this particular stage at the end of the week.

Here’s the low-down on the space in the Sound of Music Theatre… The venue itself can hold about six hundred and eighty people. Given that the maximum capacity of the ship is two thousand seven hundred and forty four passengers, the chances of getting decent houses for your performances are really good. Now not every cruise has a capacity crowd, but given the ratio of two shows per evening divided by the total number of passengers, it’s more than likely that the room will feel pretty full when you step out on stage. This is a very good thing! The other thing that helps is that the Sound of Music Theatre is the only show room on the Monarch of the Seas, so, unlike on most Princess ships were there are often multiple shows to choose from nightly, on the Monarch, the show that’s going on in the Theatre is ‘The Show’ to see each night. Result – bigger houses.

Seating in the venue take the form of long slightly arched sofa-like chairs and several rows of what seem like movie theatre chairs on the main level that are slightly raked as they move back from the stage meaning that sight lines in just about every seat of the theatre are excellent. Further back there are tables and chairs providing a bit of a cabaret venue feel and there’s a wrap around balcony above as well. That the venue has enough height for a balcony means excellent ceiling height for performers like myself who juggle and use the space as well as second level viewing options for spectators. Were I to compare it to the venues I typically play on Princess ships, the Sound of Music Theatre would be a combination of the Universe Lounge and the Princess Theatre and seems to pull the strengths of both of those Princess venues into a single performance space which is awesome.

The shape and acoustics in the room also lend for a better experience for the performer on stage. The energy exchange is fantastic. Any energy you throw out to the audience comes back in spades. This seems to be because the venue itself funnels audience reaction right back onto the stage and almost amplifies it. As I watched the welcome aboard show on Monday night I could feel waves of energy hitting the stage as the audience responded to the comedian. It was fabulous!

The stage itself is raised a little over three feet above the ground level seats in the front row meaning that for the front few rows of the audience, the stage is at eye level. All eyes are up to look at the performers on stage which likely also helps the energy of the audience as its a bit harder for the blue rinse set to nod off as a result. This configuration doesn’t seem to make for any sort of uncomfortable separation between audience and performer and the staircases on either side of the stage make it easy for performers to leave the stage and enter the audience or have audience members join the performer on stage for volunteer bits.

Technical support in Sound of Music Theatre takes the form of the Production Manager who runs the space, one technician on sound, another on lights and if required there is also back stage help as well. In other words there are plenty of hands on deck should you require any special effects or added assistance in making your show work. I spoke of transitioning my show to work well for the cruise ship audience and this has more to do with the attitude with which I deliver my material as opposed to how successfully I tap into the technical aspects of what ship venues can provide in the way of support. I barely scratch the surface in terms of what sorts of effects I ‘could’ use in these theatres, but keeping it simple seems to keep the rehearsals short which in turn keeps the technicians happy. Happy technician, happy show seems to be a fairly safe way to opperate for me.

Show requirement-wise I’ll be doing a thirty minute set as part of the Farewell Show during this particular contract. I’ll do that same thirty minutes for two different seatings, one at 7:00 pm and the second at 9:00 pm on the last night of the cruise. Also included in the show will be a sneak-peek of the cruise video that is produced on-board, appropriate funny and thank-you’s from the cruise director and a short production number by the singers and dancers as well as a passenger dance number I believe. Variety acts seem to get this spot in the farewell show a lot on Royal Caribbean Ships, so depending on how you look a things either this is a great because it’s far less work than what I typically do for Princess, or it’s not as good because you spend a lot of your time waiting around to work. For me, the chance to come back and play on the Monarch again is a treat and I’m thoroughly looking forward to my shows on Friday!

Flying in the world of Today…

2009-12-29Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

Bit touch and go getting out of Vancouver on Sunday as I made my way down to Florida to join the Monarch of the Seas. Now I should preface this by saying that I’m not a big consumer of ‘The News.’ I don’t have newspaper deliver, don’t watch the News on television, don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on via the Internet, yet in spite of this (perhaps because of this) I seem to survive quite successfully in the world by picking up on what’s relevant by what I glean from actual human contact. Who’da thunk…

If I’m a bit out of touch to begin with, well then Christmas and Boxing Day put me even further behind the eight ball because I’d been purposefully ignoring my computer so I could spend time with my wife and kids… I totally missed the recent terrorist bombing attempt of NW Flight 253 in the Detroit area by a Nigerian Man that strapped some sort of explosive device to his body and set it off as the flight was coming into Detroit… The result? Heightened security at all airports…

Holy Cow! Security at YVR on Sunday was INSANE!

Over two hours in line to get through security and then the added fun of doing the immigration two step and the mad dash to the gate on the off chance that the flight hadn’t left yet… Thankfully it hadn’t but I was certainly the last one on the flight and this after having arrived over three hours prior to departure. From what I understand the reason why I was able to make the flight at all was because it was late arriving as a result of increased security at another airport that the plane had come from prior to it’s arrival into Vancouver. One delay lead to the next and then to the next… The departure out of Vancouver was delayed so much that there was no way on earth that I was going to make the connection in Minneapolis and as a result I ended up spending the night in a hotel near the Airport on North West’s dime.

In such situations it’s usually best not to get too freaked out, but to just roll with the punches and make the best of the situation. In my particular case in this particular instance this wasn’t all that difficult. The Northwest Agent I dealt with was great about issuing me meal vouchers, getting me a hotel voucher and booking me on a flight the next morning to Orlando that got me in with plenty of time to make the ship before it departed. In fact, having the evening at the hotel in Minneapolis allowed me a great opportunity to get caught up on some emails and business and the next day when I boarded the plane I discovered that I had been upgraded to First Class. So… In some ways I was further ahead as a result of the chaos.

Still this sort of confusion can at times get a bit stressful as you play out the very uncomfortable scenario of not actually making it to the ship in time. I guess that’s why most cruise lines like to fly you in a day before you’re meant to join the ship. Nine times out of ten it would be fine to fly and join the ship on the same day as it sets sail, but that one time in ten having the extra time really can save your bacon!

Steaks Anyone?

2009-12-28Where in the world am I today?: Hopefully – Port Canaveral FL, USA joining the Monarch of the Seas.

Nothing say’s Happy Holidays like a Steak… Right? Yes? No? Maybe? Well I’ll be honest, I’d never really thought of it as an ideal gift myself which is why I was caught off guard a bit while I was sitting in the Horizon Court Buffet aboard the GRAND Princess about a week and a half as Peter Gossamer ordered steaks on-line for key clients, family and friends (for fun the links above will take you to three different on-line retailers for steaks…to be honest, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the ordering process to figure out which one Peter was actually using). The image was made even more amusing by the fact that Carol, Peter’s assistant and fiancé kept telling him to hurry up with the orders because the ship was slowly easing away from the peer in Dominica. The wireless signal that Peter was connected too was land-based not ship based, so as we moved away from the peer there was a very real risk that the connection would dwindle before a key transaction could be completed. In the end I think Peter managed to get about 70 – 80% of his ‘shopping’ done for the Holidays in one foul swoop via a couple of on-line delivery companies… Amazing!

Though a steak isn’t necessarily a product that I’d first consider as the gift that says ‘Thank You,’ the idea of a gift to say thank you is something I’ve recognized for years. I posted about the ‘GGOL’ (Generous Gift Of Love) as it’s become known in the circle of performers who attend C.A.M.P. in Winnipeg back in July. This idea of giving something back was driven home to me in Japan where I was exposed to the Japanese tradition of giving the bride and groom a wedding gift, and then having them give you something back as a thank you for coming to their wedding. When I got married in Japan, my wife very gracefully looked after all of the arrangements on that end of the spectrum as I felt completely out of my depth, but wedding package services that you can have organize your ‘special day’ in Japan include previsions for these gifts from the happy couple.

If steaks are a bit off the radar in terms of what a thank you gift can be, then some of these gift packages from Japan struck me as even more odd. Laundry detergent, facial tissues, toilet paper…all of these things are considered appropriate thank you presents from Japanese brides and grooms… Why? Well my wife explained it to me like this… People in Japan don’t have large homes, so giving them consumables makes more sense than giving them ‘objects.’ Laundry soap and household paper products are items that gets used up and are something that most people see as having day-to-day value which can at times be more important than a luxury item or trinket that just sits around and collects dust.

My friend Scotty Watson told me of a rule that he and his wife have in there home that goes like this… Nothing new can come into the house unless something old leaves. The way Scotty spoke to me about this rule I knew he was quite serious and as he seemed to quite like all of the stuff that he had collected for himself over the years, the chances of him wanting to pick up anything ‘extra’ that would force him to get rid of something he already had and really liked seemed somewhat remote. One thing that replaces another…that’s OK, but a rule like this would make most people think twice about accumulating crap if they had to get rid of things they already had as part of the process…

If you look at gift giving with this in mind, then the best possible gifts are likely the ones that improve your life without adding extra clutter to it. If you wrap your head around this then perhaps the idea of a Steak as a gift isn’t so odd after all. Well…unless you’re a vegetarian.

Frank Bruno – Quoted

2009-12-26Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Boxing is just show business with blood.

Frank Bruno, Former English Heavy-Weight Boxer (1961 – )


“Show-business is just like Boxing, just be careful who you step into the ring with!”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

Not sure that actually makes sense, but I think the point I was trying to make was the fact that in this business that we call ‘show’ it can sometimes feel like a fight… On the street level it can be the fight for getting the pitch, in the cruise ship market, the fight to actually have your promo watched by the powers that be, if you’re hugely successful then perhaps it becomes the fight to keep your privacy… Pick your battles carefully and when ever possible use your powers for good! Happy Boxing Day!

Scotty Houghton • Interviews from the Inside

2009-12-25Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prologue: Scotty and I met back in the mid-1980s at a juggling convention in Burlington, Vermont. I was part of a fledgling juggling club in Ottawa and one of the members of the club had his pilot’s license. We flew down for the convention then flew back… Crazy fun. Met Scotty there and also ran into a couple of my other heros like Waldo and Murph… Great times. Scotty and his wife Joan moved to Montreal and were working the street in the Summers to follow and I have great memories of watching Scotty riding his unicycle into the wall of a open café then leaning in, grabbing a glass of wine off of a table and having a little sip before riding back into the circle. Several years later I also remember watching him and Joan at the Halifax Busker’s Festival. Scotty had perfected an acrobatic move that made it look like he was pulling himself up by the seat of his pants… Incredible… Oh, and I should also mention that he’s got one of best impersonations of Popeye I’ve ever run across… Great guy! Fabulous Skills! Big Funny!


Name: Scotty Houghton.
Birthday: February 18, 1958.
Place of Birth: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: Started street performing in 1981. Some of my first shows were at Covent Garden, probably not a great place to start, but I learned a lot by watching the other acts, especially The Amazing Mendezies (Dave Spathaky, Chris Adams) They had a funny,tight act and a generous vibe.
Discipline: Dog act, but started as a juggler/unicyclist.
Website: http://www.Muttsgonenuts.com
Venues Worked: Festivals, Fairs, Theatres, Schools.

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? • Coffee.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Mr Saturday Night.
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood? • Frisbee.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started? • Locomotion Vaudeville, Avner the Eccentric.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in? • Oggie Doggy.
  6. Name something that scares you.Drunk drivers.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • Cook.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Violin.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Schlepping.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “I’ve got someone here who’s been waiting for you”

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

“Be nice on your way up, because you’ll see the same people on your way down.”

–Scotty Houghton


2009-12-24Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

There is no doubt in my mind that the difference between a good performer and a great or gifted performer on some level comes down to their sense of timing… The most obvious context when this gets seen is when a performer steps out onto stage, but timing when you’re off stage can be just as important. Knowing when to pursue certain opportunities and when not to… Having the right line at the right time to convince a client of the value of your show in the negotiation process, knowing when to keep your mouth shut… (always a tricky one for me).

Years ago when I first met Rob Torres I got the feeling that he knew some sort of secret because he really impressed me with his comedic timing. After years of thinking about it and bumping into Rob on a few occasions I realized that for him it’s not necessarily only about his ability to be patient for the right moment to strike with his comedy, but also that he has an inane faith that the right time will make itself apparent… The comedy gods will give you the answer if you’re eyes are open enough to actually see the opportunity. It’s almost as though he’s a tour-guide for an audience opening the door to opportunity and encouraging that opportunity to have a life of it’s own. From there he simply nudges when it needs a little help, but never gets in the way of it’s natural flow…

I’m well aware that for years I’ve gleaned strength from a perhaps misguided sense of being able to control comedic situations… I’ve crafted routines for my show that allowed for tangents to be taken when appropriate, but that always ended up returning back to ‘the script’ eventually… Sometimes leaving the script is more important than sticking to it, but sometimes my faith that the comedy gods will provide me an ‘out‘ scares the crap out of me and I run screaming back to the comfort of the familiar as opposed to really pushing the envelope and running with what ever the situation is presenting…

Perhaps the mere exercise of writing these thoughts down is helping me articulate a burning desire to take bigger risks with what I present on stage. Taking the huge step outside my comfort zone that was The Hot Dog Show was great in terms of forcing me to not rely on the tried and true and to search out new ways to articulate my version of funny for an audience, but I think perhaps I want to go even beyond that… This quest for improvement, this desire to make things better, this thirst for moving forward hopefully keeps me creative and makes every chance to step in front of an audience an opportunity to grow not just to run through the motions… I think if I get to the stage of just running through the motions it’ll be time to do something else, but thankfully I’m still motivated to move forward with not just the fun of the familiar, but combatting my own fears and uncertainties about the unknown…

I know that I’m not as aggressive in my approach as some, but this too is a question of timing… The pursuit of opportunities as the pace that feels right. Success may be longer in coming as a result, but the balance between relying on what’s familiar and stepping towards the unknown is a journey that ends up being very specific to each individual I think… Hope you all have had a good journey with this process during 2009 and that as we approach 2010 you look at the New Year with eyes wide open for chances to learn, grown and gain a better understanding of the timing that’s appropriate for you.

Theme Parks

2009-12-23Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

For many years I worked in Japan and one of the venues that hired me again and again was the Hokkaido Marine Park in the small town of Noboribetsu on Japan’s North Island of Hokkaido. This park’s main focus was on the large aquarium, seal and dolphin shows and the daily penguin parade. Now beyond just being an attraction for marine life, the Park was also a tribute to Noboribetsu’s Sister City in Denmark and the main aquariums were housed in a replica of a Danish Castle. From the front doors of the Castle you walked over a draw bridge that went over the moat, then down into a Danish town square. It was the perfect setting to put a ‘Street Performer’ and although I don’t think I have any Danish in my background, my blond-ish hair and white skin were enough to make me an attractive choice for the park to use in this space.

The gig itself was a pretty standard three thirty-minute shows a day sort of arrangement and I worked six days a week during contracts that lasted anywhere from four to seven weeks. Doing that many shows really honed my show and allowed me to try out new ideas and work on my Japanese a lot. I also found that after about a week or so of doing shows I got into a rhythm, a groove that just clicked along and on some levels I lost track of time as I got into the daily schedule and really enjoyed getting out and playing for the crowds everyday.

While I was on the GRAND Princess last week I was working with Magician, Peter Gossamer, and his assistant/fiance Carol who are looking forward to going into their third season of doing shows at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. They got to play in a theatre that held eight hundred and fifty people and performed for six weeks straight to packed houses. They used this opportunity to debut new illusions, work with a larger cast which included a couple of additional dancers and also worked ‘the back of the room‘ by selling simple magic tricks and souvenirs. They made a killing!

Steve Martin talks nostalgically about his days working for Disney and Knotts Berry Farm in Los Angeles in his book “Born Standing Up.” He starts off by selling programs at the front gates of Disney, then working in the Magic shop before moving over to Knotts Berry Farm to work in the little Vaudeville House the Bird Cage Theatre where he worked from the age of 18 – 22. At the end of the book he returns to the Bird Cage and there’s a sense of longing as he describes the sense of wanting to return to the youthful excitement of his performances in the venue.

The grind of doing so many shows isn’t for everyone, but to me there’s a sense of satisfaction in having pumped it out and having had a positive impact on so many visitors to one of these attractions. I often had people come up to me after a day at the Park I worked at to tell me that I was their favourite memory from their day. In a weird sort of way this always left me feeling like I’d done an honest days work for an honest day’s pay and kept me grounded in a way that I always found incredibly pleasing.

Preshow Music

2009-12-22Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

This post is in part tied into the post I made yesterday about crafting an appropriate Introduction for your show. If you’re in a stage show situation where the audience arrives in advance of the show and spends some time in the theatre/venue waiting for the show to begin, then having some show appropriate music playing before the show begins can really set the stage for the performance people are about to see.

Music has a way of unifying an audience or suggesting tone and mood. Why not take advantage of this before the show even begins? Doing so will make your job as an entertainer easier because you will have already developed the right energy in the room before you even step on the stage… This was pointed out to me a couple of years ago at which point I sat down and created a 30 minute pre-show CD that I hand to the Sound Tech in the rooms where I work or put on myself if I’m self producing the show.

In my own case I’ve gravitated towards jazz and big band instrumental tracks because I feel they are particularly well suited to the energy I craft in my show and have avoided the distraction of lyrics because if peoples attention is caught by listening to lyrics they may get distracted from paying attention to what ever it is I’m presenting. This is my theory… Completely lacking in any sort of documented evidence, but it has worked well so far.

A friend of mine uses a soundtrack of what sounds like old phonograph records before his show starts. This is a brilliant set up for his quirky character and the ‘vintage’ feel he so successfully creates in his performance.

Classical? Pop? Jazz? Hip-hop? Country? Rap? What sort of music best represents the style of show that you present? Now it’s reasonably important to make sure that the demographic you’re playing to can on some level appreciate the music you’ll be playing for them and you may choose to craft your pre-show musical selections with them in mind. If for instance you were playing on a Cruise Ship that caters primarily to an older crowds and you opt to used Death Metal as your pre-show music, well you might just chase people out of the theatre instead of welcoming them in, but chances are if you show is based around the Heavy Metal vibe you may not have landed the gig on a ship in the first place.

Successfully marry your show style to the right demographic audience-wise and make the appropriate musical selections that get people tapping their toes and on the same page rhythmically, and you can tap into an almost hypnotic effect that will unify the audience even before you step on stage. What you do with them from that point is completely up to you.

A Fun Introduction

2009-12-21Where in the world am I today?: Flying home from Fort Lauderdale to North Vancouver…

Got off the GRAND Princess and am on my way home… Feels good to be getting back before Christmas though I still have a small pile of stuff that needs my attention before I can really kick back and enjoy the Holidays. Still, the mere fact that I’m heading home and will be able to get to ‘The Pile’ while at home and get to sleep in my own bed is pleasantly comforting. I’ll hit the switch in my head, click into travel mode and before ya know it I’ll be arriving home… Ahhhhhhhhh… In the mean time however may as well get to the blog topic for the day – Introductions.

On ships I almost always get asked how I’d like to be introduced before I head out on stage. Typically it’s the Cruise Director or Deputy Cruise director on the ship who does the intros for the shows and the easier you can make it for them to get you on stage the better. If you can craft something simple for them easy to remember that elicits a laugh from the audience so that they get to play the comedian, so much the better. Depending on what sort of day they’ve had, the sort of energy they’ve got to sell you before you show and any number of other factors your intro may get the crowd whipped into a frenzy before you even step on the stage or it may just do the simple job of telling the audience who is about to hit the stage.

I travel with a couple of prepared introductions each of which has a bit of a comedic slant and aren’t too taxing in terms of memorization…

Intro #1 –

Though best known for his award-winning juggling antics, our performer this evening also shares something in common with comedy greats Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Dan Aykroyd. He too is Canadian. Please welcome to the stage the one and only David Aiken – The Checkerboard Guy.

Intro #2 –

This evening’s guest entertainer’s prize-winning comedy juggling performance has been a huge hit around the world! In fact, he has just come back from an extended tour in Japan where he was doing his entire show in Japanese. We thought it would be fun to get him to do his show for you tonight in Japanese as well. Please welcome the comedy juggling sensation, The Checkerboard Guy, David Aiken!

Having two gives who ever is doing the intro a choice in terms of which one they feel more comfortable delivering and I always let them know that these are just suggestions. A place to start… The guy I was just working with on the GRAND took the basic premise from Intro #2, that I was going to do my show in Japanese, and weaved a whole different set up for it… Great! Different people have different levels of creativity and energy to put into these things, but the objective is to set up the fun that the audience is about to experience.

If #2 Intro is used I always walk out and start the show in Japanese just for effect and again the show starts off with something a little unexpected (well unless I’m in Japan) and gets the crowd ready for the journey I’m about to take them on.

In a very real sense, any piece of marketing or promotional material that you create is an introduction to a possible client so if you’ve put a ton of effort into creating a website, a promotional video, business cards etc. to try and get the job, well then why not make the effort to craft an introduction to the show that’s fun and in keeping with your personality so that each audience also gets the right sort of introduction to you and your show.

Dale Carnegie – Quoted

2009-12-19Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the GRAND Princess.

“The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”

Dale Carnegie, American writer and lecturer (1888 – 1955)


“In this industry, the sure-thing boat often takes the guise of a cruise ship, and I have to admit that though this market is seductive I know bigger things are possible to those who apply themselves.”

–David ‘checkerhead’ Aiken

I love working on ships. I’ve written a ton of posts on this blog about the cruise ship market and what’s involved, but I’m 100% sure that although there’s a lot to be said for the regular work and the interesting life that can be enjoyed while working in this particular market, there is more…far more in the way of opportunity and possibility for those who are willing to build a different dream. It’s a bigger risk for sure, but the pay-offs if successful are also far greater!

Phil LeConte • Interviews from the Inside

2009-12-18Where in the world am I today?: Dominica aboard the GRAND Princess.

Prologue: I first met Phil and his partner Colin back at the 1999 Ottawa Buskers Festival on Sparks Street. Right from the get go Phil really impressed me with his drive and love of the art form. The Sillie’s Show was a bit rough back in the day, but they quickly figured it out and Phil spear headed promotional efforts that quickly make The Silly People regulars on the Festival Circuit. Phil and Colin also joined the fold as part of the C.A.M.P. family, and it was at a C.A.M.P. wrap party that the initial musical challenge was delivered. I told Phil I wanted him to create a mixed CD full of cover tunes of famous 80’s songs. Phil has one of the largest music collections I know of, so I figured this would generate an amusing mixed CD… He sent me two… He also gave me a challenge in response. Mixed CDs flew back and forth in the mail for about a year and were a hoot to not only receive but also create. Smart Cookie that Phil! Looking forward to making it to the Arts Festival he produces coming up in June 2010.


Name: Phil LeConte from The Silly People.
Birthday: September 8, 1974.
Place of Birth: Kitchener aka K-Town, Ontatio.
Started Peforming/Working in the Industry: 1993.
Discipline: Comedian, juggler, producer and international shit disturber.
Websites: www.sillypeople.comwww.waterlooartsfestival.comwww.waterloocomedy.com
Video Link: http://www.sillypeople.com/video/SillyEpisode2007.wmv
Venues Worked: Living Rooms, Back yards, side streets and a few festivals.  Please see resume http://www.sillypeople.com/about.shtml#resume

Hot 10 Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and why?I actually do not have a favourite…I like em all, well maybe not Aloe Vera or Wild Mushroom, but most normal flavours.
  2. Name one movie that would make it to your Top 10 all-time great films.Die Hard.
  3. What was your favorite toy from childhood?My Star Wars action figures…Darth Vader or Yoda.
  4. Who were your biggest inspirations when you got started?I guess Street Performers in general…at one time there used to be a great festival in my town and I guess those performers were somewhat inspiring.  As far as the Producer in me, the blame is mostly Neal Rempel’s.
  5. From the world of animation what one character do you most identify with or see yourself in? • Cartman, but a little thinner.
  6. Name something that scares you.Heights.
  7. Apart from the entertainment industry, name one other job you’ve had. • Music Retail.
  8. What’s something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try? Deep Sea fishing.
  9. What’s your least favourite thing about being a performer? • Rolling coins.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? • “Your poker seat is ready.

The Nugget:

Pick one nugget of wisdom you’ve picked up from your career in Show Business to share with the World.

It’s not about the money.

–Phil Leconte

Some Days it’s all about the Hang!

2009-12-17Where in the world am I today?: Bridgetown, Barbados aboard the GRAND Princess.

Enjoyed watching Peter Gossamer and his assistant Carol Maccri perform in the Princess Theatre last night and ended up taking a bunch of pictures of their second show. After the show wrapped up we headed up to the Buffet on deck 14 and hung out for an hour or so, grabbed a bite and just enjoyed a great post show hang. I’ve really been enjoying hanging with these two while I’ve been aboard the GRAND Princess this contract so when they asked if I’d like to join them at the Beach in Barbados today I said sure!

The ships engines woke me up this morning and by the time I’d checked my email, grabbed some breakfast and sort of got myself together it was time to head out. Met up with Carol and Peter, walked off the ship and out the cruise ship terminal buildings and hopped in a cab to the beach. Today’s beach was the Boat House Yard which is a private beach about a ten minute cab drive from where the ships pull in. Paid the crew price cover charge of $5 to get in and tipped the guy who brought us some chairs, but beyond the that, it was just a great day of hanging out at the beach! The water was amazing, the rum punch went down super smoothly, the conversation was fantastic and the free shots at the bar – the sort where you open your mouth and the bar tender just dumps a shot into your mouth… Well… Somehow I suffered through.

Got back to the ship several hours later having had a fabulous day. The 45 SPF Sun Block seems to have worked as I didn’t get back to the ship burnt to a crisp and man…it was just one of those quality of life days that make the whole cruise ship industry so much fun. Other venues and other markets often pay more than what the Cruise Ship industry is willing to pay performers, but on a day like to day the reasons why one pursues this particular avenue become immediately apparent.

The Hang time with fellow performers is also a blast. The conversations, the exchange of information, the camaraderie – it all makes for a richer life and great friendships! When I started performing and touring my priority used to be more on the pay check, but I think things have shifted a fair bit in recent years, especially after days like today I realize that money, although at times incredibly useful, isn’t what it’s all about. The adventure along the way and the people you get to spend it with, that’s what really counts. Even if the pay check is great, if the hang isn’t good well then I’ll often reconsider whether I really want to take the job. Likewise, if the money is poor, but the hang is going to be fantastic, I’ll often jump at the opportunity for a specific gig.

Everyone has their own priorities, and keeping things in balance is key, but the longer I’ve been at this game, the more important the friendships that I’ve develop along the way have become.

‘Tis the Season

2009-12-161Where in the world am I today?: At Sea off the Coast of South America aboard the GRAND Princess.

When I first started performing in the Byward Market I always faced the inevitable truth that performing outdoors in Canada was a rather seasonal pursuit. Although I can remember getting some weekends in as late as November in the Byward Market, more often than not late October signalled the end of the outdoor performance season. Thankfully it wasn’t the only season during which I was able to perform.

Performing in the Byward Market most of the summer season meant that people knew where to find me and I’d often hand out tons of business cards to people interested in hiring me to perform a private parties. The biggest season for private parties and company parties for me at the time had to be the Christmas Season. From late November right up until the weekend before Christmas I’d be booked solid performing for company parties, private functions and quite often did more shows per day than some of my busiest days as a street performer.

This year I only had one Christmas party on the books, but that was likely due to the fact that my schedule was so full up with cruise ship work. I was away on the biggest weekends of the Christmas Party season, and I must admit to not really have pushed to book shows at this time of the year. I’ve been quite happy to take what comes and not really stress too much about it, but I know some performers who have turned the Christmas Season into the mainstay of their performing business.

I know of one guy who got into the gift/toy end of the business and with one call a company could book him to do the show, provide the gifts, enlist the Santa and provide a one stop shopping solution to the Christmas Party challenge. He went as far as to have contacts for the following year ready to go so as he was wrapping up another successful event for company A they’d be signing up for the following year’s Holiday Package… Amazing.

I know another guy who decided to become a Santa and crafted a brilliant system to use at shopping malls. The kids would be greeted by elves who would talk to the children before they went in to see Santa and ask some pertinent questions. What’s your name? How old are you? What do you want for Christmas? Did you write to Santa yet? The whole time the questions were being asked the conversation was being sent to an ear piece that Santa wore (much like in the film ‘Leap of Faith‘ with Steve Martin) so that when the child came in to see Santa he would be greeted by name and Santa would know all sorts of ‘inside’ information that make the magic of Christmas come alive for the kids who were visiting Jolly Old St. Nick… Brilliant!

Now although I recognize the brilliance in both of these ‘Seasonal‘ businesses, this was never really the kind of approach that appealed to me, and although I was quite happy/am quite happy to do private shows at this time of the year, I always enjoyed other sorts of work more. Still… If you approach this season correctly and you’ll have plenty to put into your stocking before December 25th!

USB Sticks

2009-12-15Where in the world am I today?: At Sea off the Coast of South America aboard the GRAND Princess.

OK… I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a tech junky… I’m a big fan of gadgets that actually do make my life better and easier. One such gadget that I had more or less taken for granted recently were the two little USB Flash Drives that I normally carry with me when I travel. I find these little drives fantastic for quickly transferring files between computers and in this digital age the ability to just throw what you want onto one of these sticks, hand it to a friend and have them grab it is awesome. This ability to transfer information is also great when getting files to the tech crews on the cruise ships. I handed one to the lighting designer on the GRAND when I was here about ten months ago with a picture on it and they turned it into a PowerPoint Slide. One file needed to be transferred, I threw it on the stick, handed it to the lighting designer and with in a couple of minutes the image was on the slide and being projected into the theatre advertising my showtimes. Fantastic! Not only that, but they threw the PowerPoint presentation back onto the stick so I could have it when I worked on other ships. Fantastic x 2!

This time around when I joined the GRAND I decided to take a stab at redesigning the slide that gets projected in the theatre before the show… Took one of my favourite images, took the sort of look and feel of the Marquee images and postcards that I’ve got and did up a new version of the slide that was more in keeping with the look and feel of the rest of my promotional materials. Got everything as I wanted it, went to the spot that I normally keep my flash drives and discovered that both the drives I normally carry had been left behind. Doh!

One I was aware of leaving behind because I used it to transfer files for a Holiday Greeting Card that I”m getting printed from my computer to the print shop that’s doing the printing. The other I realized after I had gotten to the ship was sitting on my desk at home because I’d been using it to transfer files between the computer I travel with and the family computer at home. Grrrrrrr…

Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination and I did end up finding an alternative way to transfer the information and get it to the lighting designer, but it was just one of those little tech toys that I didn’t realized I relied on so much until I found myself with out one.

On a separate technical note… The internet connection aboard the GRAND Princess is likely the slowest I’ve experienced in recent memory… As a result, it may be a day or two before I add the regular hyper-links to the body of some of the posts that I’ll be posting – just can’t stand the pain of trying to do very much at this connection speed… Grrrrrr again!

(Side Note – Got to Dominca and tapped into a decent connection here… Links are now part of the fold again…)

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